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The Core Of Hip-Hop Culture

What evolved in The Bronx in the early and mid-70s, and which spread to disenfranchised communities around the world in the 80s before becoming the most popular genre of music in 2017, consisted of four connected components:

DJing and Beat Making

The artistic handling of beats and music, and it's the original art form that set the Hip Hop revolution in motion. In the early 70s, deejays developed new techniques for turntable manipulation. Needle dropping, developed by Grandmaster Flash, is long short drum breaks by playing two copies of a record simultaneously and moving the needle on one turntable back to the start of the break while the other is playing.

Sliding the record back and on beneath the needle made the rhythmic effect that is called “scratching.”

DJs are the core behind the beat that pleasures, traps, and moved people to the dance floor.

They choose the right moment to prompt the right song using the right technique to carry the party where it’s willing to go to make a mystical sense of mood at a party or club

It is that acuity, passionate knowledge of music, and technical know-how that make DJing one of the pillars of Hip-Hop culture.

B-Boying or Break Dancing

A form of acrobatic group dancing that bore more than a few commonalities with martial arts. Kool Herc and other pioneers of hip-hop deejays such as Grand Wizard Theodore, Afrika Bambaataa, and Grandmaster Flash extended and isolated the breakbeat producing improvised dancing.

Richard Colón was just 10 when his cousin took him to his first schoolyard bash in 1976.

He soon became a big part of it. By his earlier teens, the boy now immortalized as “Crazy Legs” became a trendsetter for breaking—a dance revolution that still popping and rocking the globe.

Graffiti Art

A form of illegal public art and self-expression that found its way into flyers announcing hip-hop events as well as on buildings and transportation systems. Reputedly, the graffiti revolution was started in 1972 by a Greek American teenager who drew, or “tagged,” his name and street, 183rd Street ''Taki 183''.

By 1975 people in the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn were going into train grounds at night under cover of darkness to spray-paint colorful mural-size renderings of their names, imagery from underground television and comics.

Mc’ing or Rapping

Placing spoken-word poetry / or rhyming to a beat in a manner that could vary from the boastful to the reflective to the assertively political.

In Hip-Hop’s early years, its music scene concentrated on the disc jockey and the dance floor. The MC—short for “master of ceremonies”—was often a sort of sidekick to the DJ. In Yes Yes Y’all, an oral history of early Hip-Hop, Grandmaster Caz describes the rise of MCing this way: “The microphone was just used for making statements, like when the next party was gonna be, or people’s mums would come to the party peeking for them, and you have to inform it on the mic.”

Before long, though, MCs wanted to showcase their talents. Grandmaster Caz continues: “Different DJs started trimming what they were saying. I would make an announcement this way, and someone would hear that and they add a little bit to it. I’d hear it again and take it a short step further ’til it turned from lines to sentences to paragraphs to verses to rhymes.”

More and more, MCs earned the right to hold the mic using freestyle skills to entertain and control a live audience. A “master of ceremonies” might make all the required announcements; but the job of an MC then and now is to guide everyone’s pleasing time with their energy, wit, and ability to interact with individuals on the floor. And good MCs don’t just demand the mic—the audience honors their skills by demanding they hold it.

A fifth element, “knowledge of self/consciousness,” is sometimes added to the list of hip-hop elements, especially by socially conscious hip-hop artists and scholars.

This element is the thread that incorporates all the other elements together. “Knowledge of self” directs to the Afro-diasporic mix of spiritual, historical, psychological, and political consciousness developed to empower members of oppressed groups” according to Travis Gosa in his book entitled The Fifth Element of Hip Hop: Knowledge. This quote links with the vision that Bambaataa had of hip-hop as a power for social change. Bambaataa states that “America has organized our minds to be into materialism”, but instead of accepting this notion, we should think about how we can get back to our communities.

All of these art forms, which emerged in The Bronx in the middle and late ’70s, spread around the globe TOGETHER, transmitted by film and music video, and can be found today in almost every city in the world in one form or another.


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